Bay Area Express Lanes – a Step Backward

We are told that Express Lanes will let us neatly bypass congestion.  It you think that sounds too good to be true, you’d be right. HOT lanes (now euphemistically called “Express Lanes”) sound good.  But here’s the rest of the story:  The Interstate Highway System was launched by President Eisenhower in 1956.  For a while the emphasis on auto travel worked, but it wasn’t long before the freeway backups and the urban traffic impacts began to cause problems. By the early 1960’s some city dwellers, San Franciscans for instance, were strongly resisting attempts to jam brutal elevated freeways through their sensitive urban districts. By the early 1970’s it was widely recognized that expanded freeways always brought more traffic that eventually caused harried freeway users to end up with the same freeway backup misery as before and the  traffic congestion in the cities at the ends of the freeways to be even worse than before.

With each passing decade the damage caused by freeway expansion in regions like the Bay Region became more obvious and the objections more strident.  As a result, by the 1990’s it became vogue in the halls of Caltrans and MTC to avoid the term “expansion” and instead use euphemisms like “bottleneck removals”, “safety improvements”and “Express Lanes”.  For over a half a century Caltrans stoically refused to acknowledge that bottlenecks could be relocated but never eliminated. Nor would the highway expanders ever admit that “safety improvements” at one location, by inducing more traffic, invariably create new traffic hazards at some other location.  And of course it is NEVER admitted by either MTC or Caltrans that by actually adding highway capacity MTC’s Express Lane program will inevitably increase regional traffic, accompanied by more accidents, more traffic congestion in the cities at the end of the freeways and a greater release of greenhouse gasses.

Conclusion:  The 21st Century HOT lanes of the Bay Area, are nothing more than a continuation of the freeway-building “culture” begun in Washington DC in 1956. The question is:  When will the Bay Area wake up and say “ENUF”?!